Eliminating Friction is Bad for Business. Embrace A Dose of Good Friction Instead.

The following is an excerpt on leadership from “Friction: Adding Value by Making People Work for It, by Soon Yu and Dave Birss. Copyright 2022 by Zenkarma Media.

Employers and employees have seen the benefits of having a global workforce, both in terms of greater available pool of workers for employers, and more options of living anywhere. However, this has also led to employees having different expectations and greater optionality, resulting in the “Great Resignation.”

The remedy? Make work-life easier with even greater benefits.

But these are just table stakes.

Instead, consider making your employees work harder by adding good friction in their work lives.

All friction is not created equal. There’s bad friction, which should definitely be eliminated. And there’s good friction, which creates more meaning, has a myriad of benefits, and should be protected like the rarest of employees.

Some things are worth fighting for

The frictionless approach is manifesting itself in even more ways.

The current leadership approach is to make managing teams as effortless as possible. Many companies rely on software to remove effort and add trackable metrics. That might sound like a good thing, but it’s leading to employers ignoring personal differences and treating everyone like an identical work unit.

The corporate cookie-cutter slices off all the extracurricular activities and passions that make an employee attractive. And the value that these things could add is lost.

You end up with a workforce of similar-minded, similar-thinking employees who struggle to think beyond the perceived limits of the organization.

Conflicts are discouraged under the mistaken belief that they are bad for business. If any disputes arise, the HR department intervenes to ensure the offending behavior is nipped in the bud. This leads to a workforce that is too worried to disagree, speak up, or step on anyone else’s toes. As a result, anything innovative or ground-breaking is self-censored before it has the opportunity to blossom.

Maybe this all comes from a confusion between conflict and disrespect. From our experience, the best ideas come from respectful disagreement. But whatever the reason, this form of friction-elimination is unhealthy for business.

From our experience, the best ideas come from respectful disagreement.

Instead healthy businesses encourage active disagreements to play out while creating a respectful and safe environment to harness the better outcomes from this interplay.

The benefits of good friction

It’s commonly believed that depression leads to physical inactivity. But a study conducted by America’s National Institute of Mental Health has shown that the correlation is the other way around. They discovered that people’s physical activity affected their mood, whereas their mood didn’t change their level of exercise. The less active someone is, the more chance they have of experiencing sadness.

Humans are designed to be active — both physically and mentally. And the less active we become, the more it will manifest itself in our mental states.

So less work doesn’t always lead to healthier lives. Often good friction from purposeful work gives us the physical, social and mental stimulation we need to stay healthy. Without it, we don’t function properly as human beings.

The key for businesses

As employers and senior leaders paint bold visions and set higher goals for their companies and teams, employees should also have a hand in leading the charge. Give your employees more responsibility to increase belonging, engagement, and meaning.

Task them with leading more strategic initiatives and have them present their ideas to larger audiences and in higher table stakes environments, while supporting them with resources and recognition. Encourage them to take on additional cross-functional leadership opportunities across the organization.

Enlist employees to co-create an environment that fosters a stronger culture- whether it’s participating in employee resource groups or planning a team building off-site.

And don’t forget to challenge their bosses to become better mentors for them and to champion them to stretch themselves.

The key for businesses is to add “purposeful and rewarding” work to replace less meaningful tasks.

“Friction” can be purchased via below.

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